Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Some Child Abuse Survivors Are Perfectionists?

Why we can never fail

Up again at 3 A.M., I wonder why I am reviewing the text of my upcoming book, "PALS: Part Two," for another time. I suppose I want it to be right, to be correct and to be perfect. Like so many things in my life I have always wanted everything to be perfect. That, my friend is one of the curses and leftover baggage from years of child physical, mental and emotional abuse. And yet, it's the dicotomy of the complex issue of child abuse that has made me succeed.

My entire adult life has been spent trying to "un-ring" those words heard by a child so long ago. They are as crisp to me today at age sixty four as the church bells peeling in our neighborhood when I was a child. "You are a no good dirty son-of-a-bitch and will never amount to a damn," was shouted at me thousands of times as a young boy and as a teenager.

Coming from someone who was supposed to protect and love me, I began to believe it. He was the authority. He was the one who knew much more than a little boy age eight. After all, my father could not be wrong. His words were cemented in my psyche when my mother reinforced them. And to further emphasize his point, he screamed the same to me when I was whipped with a belt, punched with a fist or kicked with a steel-toed work boot. Beatings were a regular occurrence for me. My mother sat and watched my beatings with no expression while drinking her beer. Both my parents were alcoholics. I have spent the rest of my life attempting to prove them wrong.

In my professional career I was a success. During my forty years as a physical therapist I was recognized by my peers, praised by superiors and respected by my patients. I was a success  with  every therapy practice where I was in control and in charge. The reason for my professional success - I was a workaholic. I was the Administrator of an out-patient clinic for nineteen years. I spent no fewer than twelve to  fifteen hours a day at work. I wore the badge of what I refer to as "business martyrdom" - the workaholic - with pride. In other work settings I spent countless hours awake trying to reach perfectionism the next day. While others enjoyed REM sleep I was scratching away with pen and paper - either imagined or real.

In my books "PALS Parts One and Two" you will experience the defense mechanisms I built for survival. You will learn the value of true friends who were at their best for me when I was at my worst. You will laugh with others in my past - because when you laugh, I feel better.

I felt I needed to work those long hours so my business would be successful. I was compelled to lie awake to theorize, hypothesize and rationalize ways to be the perfect physical therapist. I could never allow the "dog of defeat" nip my Achilles. Like many of us survivors, I tied my identity to my job. If the business was not successful - then neither was I. That was my core belief. That was my mantra. That was wrong.

There is no such thing as being perfect. I understand that on an intellectual level. I also understand the neural pathways in my brain are finely honed to believe I am worthless. It's my spirit that will not allow me to accept what my brain perceives as truth. And so I keep fighting. I keep pushing myself mentally and physically. Oh, I long for the day when I can use the eraser on the great pencil of life and realize it's OK to make mistakes, to error and then wipe them away and start again.

My anxiety level spiked as a kid when I heard those awful words from my mother, "Just wait 'till your dad gets home. He'll give you the beating of your life, you piece of shit." That same anxious feeling stirs inside when I'm in the middle of a project and I fear it might not be perfect.

Follow the growth of Krame, the main character in my novel, "The Shade Tree Choir". It is a story of a boy who overcomes abuse to become a success - at least in the eyes of others. It is my story. Krame will allow you to feel the burning of a belt, the slashing of a wicked tongue and the despair of being locked away in the dark for almost a full day. Through Krame's eyes you will see how the goal of perfectionism sets in and drives him to escape the brutality. He succeeds in getting away. But, does he really?

Mark Twain once said, "Everyone is a moon and has a dark side, which he never shows to anyone."

You will see the dark side of my moon in "The Shade Tree Choir", "PALS: Part One" and "PALS: Part Two." I hope you enjoy the ride. In the meantime, I need to return to my final edit of my book. Hopefully the last.


  1. GretchenHouser.Writer@gmail.comNovember 11, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    David: There’s one sentence in your poignant post that speaks volumes: "You will learn the value of true friends who were at their best for me when I was at my worst.” Wonderful post, wonderful words!

  2. David: Finished The Shade Tree Choir yesterday evening. Read it in one sitting. So powerful and touching! It brought back so many memories. I wasn't abused as horribly as Krame, but it was bad. Those memories were sad. But the book brought back a lot of other memories, too, not sad. Playing "ringy-runny," ringing doorbells and running away.

    Then there were the really dumb things: hanging a rope down from a high railroad trestle over a creek then swinging on it while your buddies threw rocks at you trying to get you to fall off. No one got killed, thank God, as happened with your friend jumping off the bridge, but plenty of bad bruises and fun memories.

    Looking forward to reading PALS now.


  3. I feel compelled to comment as I have yet to decide whether to read your book or not. I, too, grew up in the North End of Dubuque, IA in the 60's. A fellow classmate from grade school read your book and recommended reading it since the setting is in the neighborhood I grew up in. The setting of the book intrigued me enough to want to read it. But when I saw the serious side of the book as it related to being abused as a child and read some of the excerpts from the book, I am compelled to not read it. My reasoning for this is because someone very close to me was abused physically and emotionally as a child and endured beatings from a belt and told they would not amount to anything. I read your articles on "The Creative Adult is the Child who Survived" and " Why Some Child Abuse Survivors are Perfectionists". The person close to me who survived the abuse is now a very "creative adult" , a "perfectionist", and a "workaholic". There may be other reasons for these traits but you gave me insight and a possible explanation as to why they have these tendencies.


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